16 June 2005 | rcraig62
Not worthy of its great subject
It might be impossible to capture every aspect of a man's life in a two-hour film (A & E Biography frequently fails at this in the one-hour format with the bigger stars) while giving everything its proper weight. Peter Sellers' life is of such extraordinary dimensions that "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" even fails at being a scrapbook. This is not necessarily the film's fault; the movie is mostly well-cast (only John Lithgow as Blake Edwards didn't seem quite right) and beautiful to look at, from the opening credits on.
The movie serves mostly as a sampler of Sellers' oddball behavior. Incidents are selected from his life (or slightly fabricated) to stand for the whole; one slap across Britt Ekland's face is meant to represent a lifetime of spousal abuse, but those unfamiliar with Sellers personal life will assume that he was merely temperamental off-camera. In fact, it doesn't even come close to the truth: Anne Sellers reported that Peter once fought her for 14 hours straight (she took a nap in between) and Britt says Peter pointed a loaded gun at her in Rome, only capitulating after she told him 'if you shoot me, you'll ruin your own career'. His mistreatment of his family is grossly underweighted compared to such trivial items as Sellers not quite getting the Texas accent required for the bomber role in Dr. Strangelove, then faking a broken leg to Kubrick so he wouldn't be able to climb the ladder to the elevated cockpit on the movie set and avoid having to admit his failure with the voice. Other things are not clearly explained; for instance, that the "clairvoyant" Maurice Woodruff was in the employ of the movie studios to get Sellers to do the pictures they wanted him to do, or the fantasy sequence after his seven consecutive heart attacks in LA, which relates to Sellers insisting that he had an out-of-body experience during he time his heart stopped. The asides to the camera by the Kubrick and Bill Sellers characters, and Sellers (in funny voices) indicate the director straining for depth; perhaps a documentary on Sellers' life would have been better.
On the plus side, Geoffrey Rush is nothing short of superb as Sellers. Everything about Sellers seems exactly right, including the voice, which is no small feat, since I don't think Sellers is all that doable. The voice certainly wouldn't be recognized as Sellers if done out of context, say, as a stage impersonation, yet it works, even though I can't really recall what Sellers' actual voice did sound like. (It was this lack of personality that made him such a great instrument for creating characters) Charlize Theron is also a dead ringer for Britt, though she's not given much to do.
This movie is mostly for Peter Sellers enthusiasts, like myself, who can pick out the obscure trivia (like the Texas accent sequence), explain it to other people and feel superior. The movie isn't bad, really; its extremely well-acted and well-crafted, but it fails miserably at explaining the man. Why was he the way he was? How does one reconcile his genius with his brutality and selfishness. Sellers is of such depth and magnitude that a two-hour movie just doesn't cut it. For a true picture of the man, I would recommend the Roger Lewis book on which the movie is "based", Ed Sikov's more sympathetic biography on Sellers, and Michael Sellers' memoir "P.S. I Love You". Sellers once described himself as being an "empty vessel", a body through which one of his great characters came to life. I feel the same way about this movie.